Greece is essentially a frontier state, situated at the historic “border” where East meets West. At long last, the country is exiting a ferocious crisis. Athens must now reorient its foreign policy based on a firm, deep, and wide-ranging Euro-Atlanticism. At a time when the regional geopolitical environment is increasingly dangerous and turbulent, Greece should actively seek stability; and nothing contributes more to stability than membership and adherence to the principles of Euro-Atlantic institutions.
Relations with the United States are excellent and in many ways will constitute the key for the near future. During the financial crisis, Washington offered nothing but support and encouragement, thus taking the sting out of the virulent Anti-Americanism of past decades.Athens can reciprocate by providing new or expanded military facilities, and by doing so also enhanceits geopolitical position. Increased bilateral economic relations must remain a top priority, requiring more concerted efforts. Perhaps the upcoming Thessaloniki International Fair can act as a springboard.
When it comes to energy, Greece should take full advantage of its geographic position and become “A Strategic Getaway” for American, Azeri, and possibly Israeli and Cypriot natural gas flowing to Europe. This will alleviate regional energy dependence on Russia. In order for this to be achieved, several infrastructure projects have to be completed. They include the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, the expansion of capacity at the Revithoussa re-gasification plant, the creation of an FSRU facility outside the port of Alexandroupolis and the construction of the Interconnector Greece Bulgaria. Greece will also continue, slowly but steadily, hydrocarbon exploration within its own territory.
It has to be understood that there is no reason for Athens to have bad relations with Moscow. Under any scenario, Greece continues to import Russian natural gas, hopefully at better prices. Opportunities for increased cooperation in the fields of trade, tourism and culture also exist. But Athens can ill-afford to be seen as Moscow’s “Trojan Horse” within Euro-Atlantic institutions. Rather, it should be recognized as the undisputed and tireless regional promoter of these institutions.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, relations with Israel have been deepening and expanding for close to a decade. The Greece-Cyprus-Israel trilateral initiative involves the only stable and true democracies in the region and now encompasses areas such as energy, security and defense (it is effectively supplemented by the Greece-Cyprus-Egypt trilateral initiative, creating tantalizing possibilities when it comes to the delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zones).
The challenge for Greece is to institutionalize military and security cooperation with Israel and move beyond the excellent but mostly ad hoc basis of current schemes. Such peacetime institutionalized cooperation would not be directed againstany states. It should, though, be mandatedto protect shared infrastructure projects, especially if the East Med Pipeline and the EuroAsian Interconnector are eventually built.
As regards to the Cyprus Issue, the Hellenic side will continue to support a resolution on the basis of a plan for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Nevertheless, “it takes two to tango” and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoganseems to be going through a nationalist, capricious, even imperialist phase. Constant threats have negated, at least for now, the realistic possibility of any deal. At best, confidence building measures can be explored.
Greek relations with China are less political and more economic in nature. China did invest in Greece during the crisis, especially in the strategically important port of Piraeus. All western countries pursue economic ties with Beijing and there is no reason why Athens should prove the exception, subject, of course, to security considerations. The same applies to other emerging powers such as India and Brazil, although trade and investment levels remain exceptionally low. The recent crisis did dispel a myth concerning these countries, to the extent that it became apparent that they were neither willing nor able to “save” Greece from its travails. Nor do they offer credible or desired alternatives to the EU and NATO.
The challenges facing the European Union provide Greece with significant opportunities. While Brexit is around the corner, Greece steadfastly remains part of the Eurozone and the Schengen Agreement, in essence the hard core of European integration. As some member states embrace forms of illiberalism, Greece should double down on guaranteeing the enforcement of a progressive, liberal polity. While some dream of exiting the Union, Athens can help oversee its expansion in the Western Balkans. Greece must lead by example and rebuild credibility, trust, and prestige. In international diplomacy, these can go a long way.
In the Western Balkans, Athens has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help fast-track the region’s membership into the EU and NATO. Based on pragmatism, realism and confidence, but without neglecting to successfully address irredentism, identity issues and historical truths, Athens can now resolve thorny bilateral issues, especially with Albania and FYROM.
Only within this context (and increased defense spending) will Greece be able to confront with growing confidence and greater strength Turkey’s revisionism, authoritarianism, and aggression. Ankara is flirting with Moscow and Tehran, but it is a mistake to think that it plans to shed military ties with NATO or economic ties with Europe. This makes dealing with the neighboring state substantially more complicated.
Greece remains a peaceful, status quo power. It is exiting an almost existential crisis at a time of international and regional uncertainty. With a renewed focus on Euro-Atlanticism, Athens will bolster its defense against potential aggressors, pursue proactive regional policies, end outstanding disputes, promote NATO and EU expansion, contribute to the region’s energy security, enhance military and economic cooperation with the US, institutionalize cooperation with Israel and aspire to being a model Union member. It is in the West that the future of Hellenism is to be found in the 21st century.
Dr. Aristotle Tziampiris is Professor of International Relations and Chair of the Department of International and European Studies of the University of Piraeus, a Standing Fellow at NYU’s Remarque Institute, and Academic Advisor to the Hellenic American Leadership Council. The views in expressed in this piece are his own.